251 Wilmington, DE: Old Swede's Church

In 1698, children of the Kalmar Nyckel's emigrants built Old Swedes Church, the nation's oldest church building still standing as originally built and in regular use for worship. The modest building was heavy with mortar holding together various-sized stones in meticulous stone masonry work. After the nearby Battle of Brandywine in 1777 (the largest of the Revolutionary War), British soldiers were quartered in the church.

The man who showed me around Old Swede's church was tall enough to strain the pulpit (the oldest in the United States), which was built for a man who was six-foot-four. He had thinning, whitish gray hair, combed over to one side above a tan birthmark on his forehead. If he had taken off his thick glasses, he would have looked a little like a weightier Jimmy Stewart. He had retired here from being a music teacher in Southern California. "First, I went to Western New York, the Fingers Lake Region, and those people are isolated. I haven't been in Wilmington a lot, but I think that they're less isolated than there. In Southern California, where I used to live, everything is isolated: sprawling and car-centric."

I told him I was in a hurry to see the rest of Wilmington, so he gave me an abbreviated tour of the church, though I took the time to ring the bell in the front tower that had been added in 1892. He proudly displayed the church's organ--one of the few organs that does not have any swells to stop the sound; the player adds stops to increase or decrease the volume. "When this church was built," he explained, "Bach and Handel were both thirteen." He demonstrated how it worked by playing Johann Sebastian Bach's Tocatta & Fugue in D Minor, which was played by Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I sat enthralled through its entirety.

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